Authors: Lesley Pearse
Sophie was the only one who hadn’t
kept still; she had paced around the kitchen, one minute sobbing loudly, the next
angrily demanding to know why their mother had done
this. When she got
no real answer she would then flounce out of the room, picking up the telephone to cry
to one of her friends.
Eva looked at the clock at one point and
felt surprised that it was only eleven thirty; it seemed to her that she’d been
sitting here for a whole night. She wanted to go to her room, not to sleep – she doubted
she’d be able to – but just to escape the atmosphere of brooding intensity that
was pressing down on her.
All the images of what had taken place
earlier seemed confused now, and out of sequence. There had been so many policemen
coming and going, so much noise and confusion. She recollected someone, she presumed it
was a doctor, saying that Flora had been dead for around two hours when Eva found her.
She wondered why she remembered that when everything else seemed a jumble.
Dad had cried earlier. She went to him to
try to comfort him, but he pushed her away, almost as if he held her responsible.
Another horrible moment was when the men carried Mum’s body down the stairs on a
stretcher. Sophie shrieked like a mad thing, saying they couldn’t take her away,
and when Eva had tried to calm her down and explain that the police had to take her,
Sophie accused her of not caring.
WPC Markham had been very kind to her.
She’d said people often said and did hurtful things at such times and she
mustn’t take it to heart. Eva found it odd that much of the detail of what had
happened earlier was fading; the only part that was still crystal clear in her mind was
her mother’s white face above the bloody bathwater. That image played and replayed
in her head over and over again.
Was it true that the police had found a note
which just said ‘Forgive me’?
How could Mum say goodbye, kiss Dad and each
that morning, then clean and tidy the house, yet go on to do
that in the afternoon?
Why? What could have been so terrible in her
life that she couldn’t bear it a minute longer?
Earlier she had heard Dad talking to one of
the policemen. ‘I gave Flora everything she wanted,’ he said. ‘This
house, holidays, she could buy what she liked and go where she liked. She loved her
children. How could she do this to us?’
‘There isn’t always an
explanation for why people do this,’ the policeman had replied.
But an explanation was needed; they were all
distraught. If it was because Mum was terminally ill, if she’d gone mad or had
huge debts she’d been hiding, that at least would make some kind of sense of
Eva had never felt as helpless as she did
now. As the eldest she had always been the one who acted as peacemaker in squabbles
between Sophie and Ben. If they were in trouble with Mum or Dad she took their part. She
wanted to try to comfort them both now, and to reassure them they would get through
this. But she couldn’t; she didn’t have the words, or the will. Dad, Ben and
Sophie – they all seemed like strangers, not her family.
She had never known Dad be anything other
than self-assured, calm and in charge in any situation. Her friends always said he
looked like Pierce Brosnan, and was tasty for a middle-aged man, but to Eva he was just
her dad, officious and controlling, lacking a sense of humour, but always reliable. He
had never been demonstrative, nor was he the kind you could have a heart-to-heart talk
with. Mum had often accused him of being emotionless.
Yet now, watching him nursing yet another
large glass of whiskey, a five o’clock shadow on his cheeks, muttering
‘forgive me’ over and over again, he bore no resemblance
to the man who had always been so controlled and as steady as a rock.
Sophie and Ben both took after him;
Ben’s hair was as Dad’s had been – thick, dark and wavy, flopping over his
eyes. At eighteen he was as skinny as a runner bean, and even though everyone told him
he would fill out before long, he despaired of ever having the kind of muscular body
some of his friends had.
Sophie was seventeen, and very pretty – five
foot nine, with fabulous shapely legs, glossy dark hair and a perfect size ten figure.
Recently she’d decided she was going to become an actress. In moments of
irritation Eva had retorted that she was already a drama queen.
She certainly had been a drama queen
tonight. Screaming, wailing, flouncing around saying she felt like killing herself, even
when the police were still here. And she kept going over and over what had happened,
almost as if she was in a feeding frenzy over the drama of it. She’d even gone
into the sitting room and telephoned some of her school friends to tell them all about
Eva felt Dad should have asserted himself
then and told her she had no right to divulge such a personal thing, because by tomorrow
it would be all over Cheltenham. But he didn’t seem to notice what Sophie was
doing. Yet what upset Eva most was that her sister was only reacting to how this tragedy
would affect her. ‘What will people think of me?’ Sophie had said, just
before spreading the story even further.
‘How could Mum be so selfish when I
needed her to find out about drama colleges?’ she said later, seeming totally
unaware of how self-centred that remark was.
Eva loved Sophie, but she had always been a
spoiled brat. Whatever she wanted, she got. At seven she wanted ballet
lessons, and she’d only been going six months when she threw a tantrum because
she wasn’t picked to be in a show. Dad tried to reason with her and explain she
just wasn’t good enough yet, and that by next year she would be, but she
wouldn’t see reason and refused to go to dancing any more.
Next she wanted a pony, and she went on and
on about it till she got Pepper. Within two months she was refusing to even feed her,
let alone ride her. She said Pepper smelled.
Eva had wanted a pony too, and she asked if
she could look after Pepper. She’d never had riding lessons like Sophie because
the lesson time on Saturdays coincided with activities Ben and Sophie went to, but she
felt she could learn quite easily.
‘I’m not throwing more good
money after bad,’ Dad said in that voice he had when his mind was made up.
‘I’m selling Pepper and that’s the end of it.’
Eva could see Mum thought this was unfair.
‘Give Eva a chance, she’s far more responsible than Sophie,’ she
argued. ‘Besides, all three of them need to learn that caring for an animal should
be taken very seriously.’
Dad had just cast a scathing glance at
Flora, as if he held her accountable for Sophie losing interest in the pony.
‘I’ve made my decision. Pepper is going, and we’ll have no more talk
To this day Eva could still remember the
triumphant smirk on Sophie’s face. She didn’t want Pepper herself, but she
didn’t want her elder sister to have him either.
Eva wasn’t one for resurrecting past
hurts but earlier, when Sophie had claimed that it was Eva’s fault their mother
had killed herself, she’d nearly slapped her.
‘How can it be my fault?’ she
asked. ‘I’m the only one who ever helped her around the house. I never
demanded anything of her.’
‘You did! You’ve kept on about
having a twenty-first birthday party,’ Sophie retorted.
Eva’s birthday was the twenty-sixth of
April – a little less than a month away – and she could hardly believe her sister would
claim such a thing, as she’d barely mentioned it at all. She looked to Ben and her
father for support. But they just sat there and said nothing.
‘It was Dad who suggested I had
one,’ Eva pointed out. ‘If you remember, I said I didn’t want a
‘You pressured Mum to get a marquee
put up in the garden.’
Eva had been incredulous at that.
‘That was Mum’s suggestion. Tell her, Dad!’
He didn’t answer, just gulped down the
rest of his drink and filled the glass again.
It was Ben who put an end to the argument.
He banged his fist on the table and said it wasn’t decent to argue at such a
He was right of course, and as much as Eva
had wanted to point out that it was Sophie who hassled their mother every single day
about something, she knew this wasn’t the time for it and had lapsed into
As the chiming clock in the sitting room
struck midnight, Eva felt someone had to make a move. ‘We can’t make sense
of anything sitting here,’ she said, getting up and looking to Ben and Sophie.
‘Perhaps you two should try to get some rest too?’
‘I’m not leaving Dad,’
Sophie said, sticking out her lip. ‘He needs me.’
Eva shrugged; their dad was in a world of
his own, and she doubted he needed Sophie’s prattling and hysteria. ‘If any
of you need me, you know where I am.’
Up in her bedroom, Eva lay down on her bed and
sobbed. She desperately needed someone to put their arms around her and tell her the
misery she was feeling would go away in time. While she knew it was awful for everyone,
she’d had the worst shock in finding Mum, and she’d been the one who had
been questioned the most. So surely Dad could have put his own feelings to one side for
a moment and thought of her? He’d cuddled Sophie and Ben, and even reminded them
they still had him, but he’d ignored her.
She really didn’t want to dwell on it
now, but the truth was she was always the one who was ignored by Dad. Right back when
she was only seven or eight years old, she had felt he cared only about Ben and Sophie
and she was virtually invisible. Even Granny and Grandpa, his parents, had been the
same. They talked to her, bought her presents, and yet the two little ones got the
lion’s share of their attention.
Mostly she thought it was because she
wasn’t pretty like Sophie, or clever like Ben. Sophie demanded a centre-stage
position and always got it; Ben charmed people and made them laugh.
Maybe that was why she became rebellious at
fourteen. She truanted from school, hung around with rough kids from the council estate,
and allowed herself to be led into trouble and to dress like a goth. While she knew she
was alienating herself from her parents, at least outside the home she felt she was
somebody; she was even admired by her new friends because she didn’t act like the
‘posh’ girls they knew.
Unfortunately, when she left school her
appearance made things very difficult for her. The only work she could get was in
fast-food outlets, and that incensed her parents even more.
A horrible incident when she was nearly
eighteen had finally brought her to her senses. Yet even though she had admitted to her
mother then that she was ashamed of how
she had been, Dad never praised
her for changing her ways. Even when she got her present, good job in the mail-order
company, dropped the goth look, let the black and purple dye in her hair grow out and
wore suits and smart dresses, he still acted as though she was an embarrassment.
Recently she’d been promoted to Head
of Customer Services, with a big pay rise, but Dad hadn’t once asked what the job
entailed, or shown an interest in the people she worked with.
As for the twenty-first birthday party, she
had never wanted one. The people she would have liked to celebrate with were the ones
she worked with, and they would be uncomfortable at the kind of posh show-off do Mum and
What would happen to the family now? She
couldn’t imagine how they could hold together without Mum. She might have been
erratic, disorganized and given to being distant sometimes, but she had been the hub of
all their lives.
Was she severely depressed, and none of them
had ever realized?
Eva didn’t know very much about
depression, but she had read in a magazine that artistic and sensitive people tended to
be more prone to it. Flora was artistic: she’d been at art school when she was
young, and Eva remembered her drawing pictures for all three of them when they were
small, making lovely Christmas decorations and cards, and she was always called upon to
design posters for school events. Even her vintage clothes were part of that. Could she
have become depressed because she had no outlet for that side of her personality?
It occurred to Eva then that she really
didn’t know anything much about her mother. Flora rarely spoke about her youth –
what ambitions she’d had, who her friends were – or
even how she
felt about anything. Eva knew plenty of trivial stuff – that she’d rather have a
bar of Cadbury’s chocolate than a posh box of chocolates, or that green was her
favourite colour and peonies her favourite flowers – but not serious stuff like what
made her really angry, or what her worst fear was.
But now she came to think about it,
they’d never really talked, not the way Eva talked to other women at work. They
told Eva stories about when they were young, about their families, and sometimes they
spoke about the mistakes they’d made along the way. Each little confidence brought
them closer as friends, but Mum never opened up about anything. It was as if she held up
an invisible shield to stop anyone getting close.
It was clear enough that something, or
someone, had caused her to be so unhappy that she had been pushed over the edge.
But such things didn’t erupt out of
nowhere in one day. So why didn’t she tell anyone what was wrong?
Olive Oakley rested her head in her hands,
so stunned by the phone call from Eva Patterson that she wasn’t even sure
she’d managed to offer her sympathy and support.
Olive was a partner in Oakley and Smithson,
a fast-expanding mail-order fashion company, and Eva was one of her most promising
employees. A statuesque and glamorous blonde in her forties, Olive had worked her way up
in the rag trade, from machinist to running her own company, by sheer tenacity and force
of personality. Someone in the trade once described her as ‘the kind of woman who
would eat her own young’. That had amused her; she had retorted that was why
she’d never had any children.